After a week of feeling back at home in a developed country, we resumed our South East Asia adventure, starting in Vietnam.
We flew into Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. Our first order of business was to apply for a new passport for Dom because he was running out of pages. You'd think we'd have foreseen this as a problem prior to leaving on a big trip and, in fact.. uh, yeah.. we did. Unfortunately, when Dom pre-emptively attempted to get a new passport prior to leaving, the application was rejected and he was told that - if you currently have a valid passport, you absolutely cannot apply for a new one unless the current passport expires in less than 1 year, OR your current passport has less than 4 blank pages. After pleading that we would be traveling the world for a full year and that we didn't want to apply and wait 21 days in a foreign country for a new passport, the officer gave him a baffled look and said "can't you just fly back to Canada during your trip?"… sigh… it was a no-win situation, so.. here we are at one of the handful of Canadian Consulates in SE Asia :).
After a bit of struggle with various Visa applications in other countries (ie. getting the India visa in Kathmandu), we were prepared for a bit of struggle/frustration here. To our amazement, the staff at the Canadian Consulate in Ho Chi Minh, were really amazing (arguably even more friendly and helpful than the passport office in Canada!!). The lady that helped us was super nice and understanding - she absolutely made the process as easy as it could be by answering all our questions, providing the right overseas applications to fill in, and she even had the new passport shipped to Ha Noi (the other embassy in Vietnam) so that we can continue traveling north instead of waiting for 3 weeks in Ho Chi Minh. So, we were very pleased to deal with them and highly recommend it to anyone else who finds themselves stuck in this situation in the future :)
From Ho Chi Minh, we also visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the Vietnam War museum.
For those who do not know about this war, you should read the first few paragraphs of the Vietnam war wikipedia page:
South Vietnam: 850,000 (1968)
United States: 536,100 (1968)
Free World Military Forces: 65,000
South Korea: 50,000
North Vietnam: 287,465 (January 1968)
China: 170,000 (in 1965–69)
Soviet Union: 3,000
58,220 dead;[A 2] 303,644 wounded[A 2]
5,099 dead; 10,962 wounded; 4 missing
500 dead; 3,129 wounded
37 dead; 187 wounded
351 dead;1,358 wounded
. To summarize, it was a cold war fought in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, where the Russians were supporting North Vietnam and the US was supporting South Vietnam.
No war is ever pleasant - the War Remnants museum did a good job of outlining the atrocities and horror of the Vietnam war. It's presented in an artistic and touching way with artifacts, quotes, and photos from people who fought, barely survived, and were brutally tortured. It has been over 25 years since the war ended, but since then, tens of thousands of locals have since been killed or handicapped by the millions of unexploded land-mines which, to this day, still contaminate over a third of the country.. not to mention the hundreds of thousands of children born with horrible defects due to Agent Orange exposure which also still contaminates deep within the soil.
The Cu Chi tunnels, a 2 drive hours north of Ho Chi Minh, were made by the Viet Cong to evade and hunt the southern forces. There over 200km of tunnels split into 3 underground levels: At the top level, a Vietnamese can walk through if they crouch down at the hips, whereas the bottommost level of tunnels requires them to army-crawl. They also slept and lived in expanded rooms within the maze of tunnels. They were so well hidden from the surface that you would never know they were there - all you'd see is dirt and vegetation. Also, since the Viet Cong guerrillas were mostly under-armed, the entire area was booby trapped.
Unlike the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi tunnels tour felt very touristy and done up a bit like an amusement park more than a place depicting remnants of the Vietnam war: You can even pay to shoot old military weapons from the AK47 to M-60 for fun. Overall, it was still an interesting experience and worth seeing/crawling through part of the cramped tunnel networks to get a real appreciation for what they endured and accomplished.
After Ho Chi Minh, we took a bus to a beach town on the East Coast called Mui Ne, where we will be spending Christmas!
Now that the world managed to survive the Mayan Apocalypse, we'd like to wish everyone and your families a Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, wherever you are!